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Australia aim to keep No 1 ranking

24 January, 2014

PERTH: Australia began Wednesday second on the ICC's one-day international rankings. The players went for a spot of training, returned to their hotel in Perth, probably watched some television and by the end of the day they were No 1.

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India's loss to New Zealand in the second ODI in Hamilton was enough to drop MS Dhoni's men down from first to second on the rankings list and, by default, Australia will enter their fourth ODI in Perth occupying the top spot. Of course, if they lose to England at the WACA, it could be the shortest rule since Frank Forde spent a week as Australia's prime minister back in 1945. But their stated goal is to return to the top of the rankings in all three formats, and their victories in the first three matches of this series have allowed them to achieve that in the 50-over game - even if it is only temporarily.

To retain their ranking, Australia will need to rely on a second string batting line-up with Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, David Warner and Brad Haddin all rested now that the series has been decided. For a period on Wednesday it even appeared that their stand-in captain George Bailey might miss a second consecutive game after picking up a hip flexor niggle during the win in Brisbane, which might have meant a captaincy debut for his nominated deputy Mitchell Johnson or a rushed flight to Perth for one of the resting men. However, on Thursday, Bailey was passed fit and will lead the Australians as they hope to continue towards another clean sweep over Alastair Cook's side.

For Cook, it looms as serious challenge to lift his team given the series is now dead, and considering the way he responded to the loss in Sydney. After the game, a despondent Cook indicated that his time as ODI captain could be coming to an end, and that "English cricket needs a little bit of a change". Presumably he meant personnel, but a change in on-field results would be a good start. Victory in Perth would also prevent this England side from joining the 1993 and 2001 outfits as the only England teams ever to lose 10 consecutive matches across all formats. Against an Australian team missing four of their finest players, this could be England's best chance.

It has been an up-and-down week for George Bailey, who on Monday was named Australia's One-Day International Player of the Year at the Allan Border Medal night in Sydney, having earlier that day missed out on selection in Australia's Test squad to tour South Africa. But as befits a man of Bailey's maturity, he took his Test axing in his stride and concentrated instead on ensuring he recovered from his hip flexor injury in time for this ODI. Bailey decided against going out with the team to celebrate the series win on Sunday night or his personal award on Monday evening so that he could maximise his chances of recovering. Now he wants to show the selectors that he still has plenty of runs in him.

Ian Bell has made starts in all three ODIs so far in this series but is yet to go on and make a really big score. His scores of 41, 68 and 29 have shown that he is in decent touch but perhaps the most frustrating thing for Bell has been that in two of the three innings he has been run out. Perhaps Perth, where he played club cricket ten years ago, will be kinder to him.

Australia confirmed their XI on Thursday, with four changes from the side that won in Sydney.

AUSTRALIA (possible): 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Shaun Marsh, 3 George Bailey (capt), 4 Steven Smith, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Matthew Wade (wk), 7 Daniel Christian, 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 11 James Pattinson.

ENGLAND (possible): 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Ben Stokes, 4 Gary Ballance, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Ravi Bopara, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Chris Jordan, 11 James Tredwell / Chris Woakes.

Courtesy: The Nation